UNITED NATIONS—President Bush came home empty-handed Wednesday from his two-day push at the United Nations to begin getting foreign troops and financial help in Iraq.
White House officials started lowering expectations that a U.N. resolution to encourage other nations to donate military and monetary help was on the horizon. A senior administration official indicated that it could be months before a resolution is passed and international help is on the way, if ever.
But a senior State Department official said the administration is not deliberately slowing down its resolution efforts. "I wouldn't predict how long that process would take," he said. "We're not slowing down to any artificial timetable. We do want to do it right."
The Pentagon's second-ranking general said thousands more National Guard and Reserve troops might have to be called up by early November if it wasn't clear by then that other countries would send more forces. Some 170,000 National Guard and Reserve troops are already on active duty—120,000 of them on duty related to Iraq—and officials fear the strain on America's part-time warriors may lead to massive refusals to re-enlist.
Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, who is vice chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the administration still hoped that Turkey, India, Pakistan or South Korea would contribute thousands of troops, but "hope is not a plan." Pace spoke to a group of defense correspondents in Washington.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reinforced Bush's downscaled expectations Wednesday, saying he didn't expect much help from other countries.
"We're not going to get a lot of international troops, with or without a U.N. resolution," he said in Senate testimony. "I think somewhere between zero and 10,000 or 15,000 is probably the ballpark. It's not going to change the drill dramatically."
The failure to secure foreign help in Iraq comes as polls show growing concern among the public and lawmakers of both parties in Congress that the U.S.-led effort to pacify and rebuild Iraq costs too much, kills too many U.S. soldiers and may be inflaming terrorists more than defusing them.
One day after Bush spoke to the General Assembly, calling on the world to lend the United States a hand in Iraq, senior administration officials said the president, in a series of meetings with world leaders, didn't ask for specific assistance.
"The president didn't come here to ask people for troops," said a senior administration official spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The president came here to lay out a call to the international community to join together in whatever way people can in supporting reconstruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in building a stable Iraq."
Bush's call went unanswered.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf left a meeting with Bush doubting that his country would provide Muslim troops—highly desired by the White House—to Iraq. Musharraf said he would reserve final judgment until he saw a final draft of the U.S.-sponsored resolution, but he said the thought of sending Pakistani troops to Iraq was highly unpopular at home.
"As far as Pakistan is concerned, the domestic environment under the present circumstances is totally opposed to sending troops to Iraq," he said. To change Pakistani opinion, he said, a U.N. resolution must call for a multinational force drawing Muslim troops from several nations.
In one of the few encouraging signs for U.S. officials, Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder agreed to put past differences behind them. But Schroeder's offer to help train Iraqi police and military personnel fell far short of Bush's goals.
Bush, who spent most of the day meeting with potential donors in his suite at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, took a conciliatory tone in his first sit-down meeting with Schroeder in 16 months. Tensions between them escalated last year when Schroeder campaigned for re-election with an anti-American message, then opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"Look, we've had differences and they're over," Bush said he told the German leader at the start of their closed-door meeting. "We're going to work together."
Schroeder responded in kind, saying their past disputes "have been left behind and put aside."
Even so, he declined to provide troops or money for Iraq. And in a speech later to the General Assembly, he said Bush should give the organization control over Iraq's reconstruction.
"Only the United Nations can guarantee the legitimacy that is needed to enable the Iraqi population to rapidly rebuild their country under an independent, representative government," he said, echoing other leaders' comments.
Schroeder also met with French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin, two other critics of the war, to discuss their strategy for dealing with Bush's plan to get a U.N. resolution clearing the way for international help in Iraq.
Chirac told reporters "there is not a shadow of a difference" between France and Germany on the issue of Iraq. Bush will get a chance to lobby Putin this weekend when the Russian leader joins him for a two-day visit to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.
France and several other nations have pressed Washington to accelerate the timetable for transferring power to Iraqis. Ahmad Chalabi, one of nine acting presidents of Iraq on a rotating basis, has sided with France in calling for the quick move to self-rule.
That angered the administration, particularly the Pentagon, where Chalabi had been a favorite. But Chalabi, at a U.N. briefing, said reports of a rift with the Bush administration were exaggerated.
"We have no disagreement with the United States government," Chalabi said. "We are grateful to President Bush and we are working with the United States to achieve our objective of the democratic constitution for Iraq."
Negotiations on a new U.N. resolution on Iraq—a key first step toward garnering more international help—could take weeks. Foreign leaders say they need a U.N. resolution to build domestic support for any involvement.
Opponents of the U.S. invasion say the resolution must cede control of Iraq's reconstruction to the United Nations. They also want a swift timetable for turning over power to Iraqis. Bush has ruled out both demands, setting the stage for difficult negotiations over the resolution's wording.
Despite the differences, administration officials said they thought they made some progress during their New York visit.
"People are beginning to understand what the parameters are," the senior administration official said. "I think it's helped tremendously on the resolution process here."
U.S. officials are looking to other countries for help with the $50 billion to $75 billion that they estimate will be needed to restore Iraq's infrastructure and its economy. Bush has asked Congress for $20 billion for Iraq's reconstruction as part of his $87 billion request for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondent James Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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